Monday, May 5, 2008

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, Only If You Don’t Know Where to Shop

by Joanna Campbell Slan (and posted for her by Keith Raffel)

Okay, maybe my new book Paper, Scissors, Death wasn’t a hit at Malice Domestic—after all it doesn’t debut until September—but my zebra-striped shoes sure were.

Which just shows to go you that money can too buy happiness. Even The New York Times agrees. In an article on April 16, 2008, David Leonhardt wrote that in 1974 an economist named Richard Esterlin came up with a theory in which he argued that economic growth didn’t necessarily lead to more satisfaction.

Esterlin must have been some kind of fool.

And he’s since been proven WRONG by the Brookings Institute. (I knew I liked those people.) Two researchers Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers discovered that money indeed tends to bring happiness, even if it doesn’t guarantee it.

See, I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich, and let me tell you this unequivocally: Rich is a whole heck of a lot more fun.

When I was a teen, we went on welfare. My sisters and I learned a very important lesson: Do not put anything in the charity food drive that you wouldn’t eat yourself. Those beets and lima beans we ditched two years before showed up at our front door along with a frozen turkey and a smug-looking vestry member assigned to distribute baskets to the needy. And boy, oh, boy, were we ever needy. We had a whopping $50 in the bank, no car, and no prospects. The bank called every day threatening to evict us. We had no means of support because my dad had run off with—and I’m not kidding—Vicki LaFever. Would I make something like that up? (If I made it up, I would have called her Vicki LaSlut, but not LaFever. Sheesh.)

Let me tell you something else about being on welfare. Food stamps don’t cover toilet articles much less the, um, monthly needs you have in a house with three girls. It was pretty bleak. That was the summer I first failed at a job. I became an Avon lady. Okay, when you are 18 and you are trying to sell wrinkle cream women thirty years older than you, you just have to have a whole lot more moxie than I have…and as you all know by now, I’ve got moxie to spare.

See…that’s how you get moxie. You decide that “with God as my witness, neither me nor my kin will ever go hungry again.” (Nod to Scarlett.)

And I did. I made that promise and I’ve kept it.

So in case you’re wondering, I’ll spell it out for you: 1.) riding in a limo is much more fun than taking the city bus ANYWHERE 2.) yes, it’s a real mink—they were suicidal and I had them made into a coat so they wouldn’t die in vain and 3.) you can’t afford me.

Trust me on this. I’ve done the research.


Keith Raffel said...

Now we just have to convince all those readers to buy our books so we can afford the limo.

Mark Terry said...

Esterlin's paper didn't indicate that money didn't buy happiness. What is says is that beyond a certain level of income, which at the time of the paper was something like $40,000 a year, but for the sake of argument let's say comfortably middle class, the increase in income didn't make people significantly more happy than they were at that income level.

In other words, once you had enough money to cover basic needs plus enough to cover a certain level of luxury--eating out, say, entertainment, vacations--the additional things didn't actually make you happy.

Anonymous said...

You know, part of me suspects that those sayings about how "money can't buy happiness" are spouted by those who have it so that those who don't won't feel resentful. Sometimes I really do think that ideas like the "dignity of manual labor" and the "virtue of humility" are calculated mechanisms for keeping the poor in their place.

Yes, I can be cynical sometimes.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Keith--Thanks for posting for me. I think you are well on your way to a lot of limo rides in your future.(I see it in my crystal ball, sir.)

Mark--You are, of course, correct, but Esterlin's work was interpreted (perhaps wrongly) as "money can't buy happiness." Obviously, without an understanding of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, one might be led astray, so certainly the fact remains one's basic needs must be met. That said, "a level of luxury" will fluctuate according to the society you live in--and the normative expectations of your socio-economic group. For example, when we lived in the UK, people used their purchasing power much differently than our neighbors did here in the US.

Paul, personally I have no desire to see "the poor kept in their place." And boy, am I glad that I never believed that my place was to be on welfare for the rest of my life.

G.M. Malliet said...

I *saw* the shoes at Malice and believe me, they are some great shoes.

And I'm with you, Scarlett. As God is my witness...

Jessica Lourey said...

Hahah! I LOVE your moxie, Joanna! Was Malice a good time?